Washington: NASA has selected tech billionaire Elon Musk’s private aerospace company, SpaceX, to provide launch services for an astrophysics mission to survey the sky in the near-infrared light.
The planned two-year mission is called SPHEREx, short for Spectro-Photometer for the History of the Universe, Epoch of Reionization, and Ices Explorer.
The near-infrared light, which, though not visible to the human eye, serves as a powerful tool for answering cosmic questions involving the birth of the universe, and the subsequent development of galaxies, according to NASA.
“SPHEREx will also search for water and organic molecules, essentials for life as we know it, in regions where stars are born from gas and dust, known as stellar nurseries, as well as disks around stars where new planets could be forming,” the US space agency said this week.
The mission is currently targeted to launch as early as June 2024 on a Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex-4E at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, US.
Astronomers will use the mission to gather data on more than 300 million galaxies, as well as more than 100 million stars in our own Milky Way galaxy.
The total cost for NASA to launch SPHEREx is approximately $98.8 million, which includes the launch service and other mission related costs.